Google Web Lab Science Museum, London
Saturday 15 Jun 2013

 

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Universal Design Studio and sister company MAP are responsible for the 3D design and architecture of a dramatic new Google exhibition. Web Lab brings the extraordinary workings of the Internet to life through a series of interactive, web-connected physical experiments, aiming to inspire the world about the Web's possibilities and to explain its complex technological processes. Exhibition visitors can make music with people across the world and trace the physical route taken by a simple web search. The exhibition at London's Science Museum is open to the world online at chromeweblab.com, with online visitors experiencing the exhibition through 24-hour web cams installed at the museum.

Partnering with interactive design and engineering group Tellart, Universal Design Studio and MAP worked together to design the exhibition environment, creating innovative architectural and design archetypes for this new kind of physical and digital collaboration. The design approach focuses equally on the experience of the space physically and the experience of it online via web cams. Architecture and design tools help to deconstruct technology and tell the story of how digital and physical realms are connected. New archetypes were created to separate users from their familiarity with objects, reinforcing the experimental nature of the exhibition, and to ensure each experiment could be appreciated both in the museum and online.

Universal Design Studio and MAP have created an immersive lab setting in the basement of the Science Museum, a scheme that foregrounds the idea of Web Lab as an interactive place of testing and continuous experimentation.

An industrial, functional aesthetic forms the backdrop to the series of playful experiments.  At the exhibition's entrance, a centrally positioned glass and wire mesh workshop provides a highly visible ‘curated lab' space for events, simple repairs and displays. A key feature conceptually, it represents the ‘living lab' nature of the exhibition, where visitors are not spectators but are engaged in and part of a working space.

Universal Design Studio and MAP were challenged to design a space that would be experienced both physically and online through ‘the eyes of the web'. In order for online visitors to easily interpret the space, architectural planes are clearly and directly articulated. The ground plane maps out the territory as a graphic surface. Bibliothèque created graphics for the rubber floor which, as well as providing an additional narrative layer to the exhibition, creates zoning and flow of movement, and adds a supportive description of each experiment's function.

The ceiling plane consists of a bright yellow steel grid delivering the network of cables that service the experiments. Rather than be concealed, the grid articulates the physicality of the web, illustrating its data flow - the ‘life source' of the experiments. Throughout the exhibition, cabling to experiments is intentionally exposed, emphasising this physicality.

A secondary skin of semi-transparent wire mesh lines the walls of the museum gallery, blurring the distinction between the existing building and the new installation. The space is acoustically controlled creating an optimal environment for the Universal Orchestra experiment, which provides the soundtrack to the exhibition experience.

Working with Tellart (who prototyped the experiments) and Universal Design Studio, MAP oversaw the industrial design, look and feel of the exhibition's five Chrome Experiments:

For the Universal Orchestra, the forms of standard instruments are reimagined; the marimba abstracted - flipped to a vertical position and exploded to a graphic, circular arrangement; the drum kit treated similarly, with a vertical arrangement. Wood blocks are suspended in a spiral configuration - easily viewed by museum visitors but also cleverly captured as a cluster through the overhead webcam. These interventions reinforce the message that the instruments aren't played by human hands but are remotely controlled by visitors in the Science Museum and online.

Google Creative Lab – Client / Agency

Tellart – Digital / Interactive

Karsten Schmidt – Digital / Interactive

Bibliothèque – Graphics and signage

B-Reel – Web / Branding

DHA – Lighting